Posted Mar 19, 2022, 3:53 pm
Darren O’Neal ducked his head as he entered the raucous, dingy Firelight Tavern. It took him a minute to spy Richard McGhee, who was sitting at the bar in an animated, one-way conversation with a fellow Darren didn’t recognize. Darren walked up and sat next to Richard. The barkeep - a giant of a man with only one eye - slammed a mug in front of Darren. Whatever was in the mug made Darren’s eyes water.
“Uh, thank you,” said Darren, “But I don’t think I -“
“Shut up,” snarled the barkeep, walking away. Richard smacked Darren on the back.
“You’ll love it,” Richard smiled, nodding towards the sludge-filled, grimy mug in front of Darren. “It tastes like freedom. Freedom in a cup! Hey, meet Salvador. He’s a nihilist.”
Darren nodded to the off-putting character on the other side of Richard, then looked Richard over while he tasted the smoldering brew. Richard looked a bit of a wreck. He and two other gangers had disappeared in the desert south of Elmsfield six months ago. A week ago Richard had sent word that all three were in Firelight, and needing a ride home. So the boss had sent Darren. Apparently, Richard had risen through the gladiator ranks and earned back his freedom.
“This stuff is awful,” grimaced Darren, putting down his mug. “Where are Finn and Lynch?”
“Finish your drink. We gotta go fight in the pit to bust ‘em out.” Richard threw back a shot of what looked like high octane jet fuel, and wiped his mouth with his sleeve.
“Wait, what?!” asked Darren, suddenly no longer worried about his drink.
“Yeah! It’s a Freedom Friday in the Pit! But they’ll need a couple of teammates.”
“Piss off,” said Darren, now interested in his beer. “I didn’t risk my ass coming all this way to be mulch for some mutant worm.”
“Oh,” said Richard, taken aback. “No problem, mate. How about you, Salvador?” Salvador, who had yet to speak a word, shrugged his shoulders and nodded with a slow grin. “Hey, great! Darren, we’ll be right back. You mind picking up this tab?”